Today is the second day of HackUMass. Time is ticking away on our 36-hour limit. I should not be typing up this article right now. Lucky for you, I am the true novice of the novices, so I don’t have much on my agenda. Before I talk about HackUMass, let me expose my computer science background; it proudly consists of a month of Introductory to Computer Science 111. That’s it. (IOW, I have no idea what I’m doing here.)
First off, if you don’t know what a hackathon is — the brief definition is a computer programming event that consists of software and hardware developers who intensively collaborate on a project. Some hackathons have themes, but HackUMass does not. This program started in 2014 with about 100 people, but has grown to 650 “hackers” this year. It is the largest hacking event in the Pioneer Valley, but the neat thing is that we don’t just come from the 5 College Consortium or the Pioneer Valley. People from all corners come here to work on projects and learn from one another. I have already met students hailing from hours of driving away and even from Montreal, Canada.
The program coordinators opened a large groupchat with Slack, in which I was not only able to meet about a third of the participants, but also I formed my team for the weekend. Luckily, I wasn’t the only one for which this hackathon would be my first. In my team were Sivian (Amherst ‘20), Ian (UMass ‘20), and Pierce (UMass ‘20). We were expecting to meet two other members, from Smith and UMass, but they never showed up. Finding each other was the first goal, and the overcrowded circumstances that we were in did not simplify the process in any way.
There was an opening ceremony, followed by a session of companies tabling and recruiting. To summarize this experience, in five words: words, applaud, FREE, snatch, shove. The amount of free stuff, including shirts and pens, was incredible. I squeezed out of the crowd with a fitbit canvas bag, a Jibo shirt, Google pens and notepads, CST screen cleaners, and sweet potato chips. (Saving the best for last, to be honest) This bag of goodies was enough to make this weekend worth it.
All of the teams look like they know what they’re doing. Glancing into the classrooms, I see black screens laden with intelligence in the form of lines of code. Wires twisted in every direction accompanying the hacker along with scraps of food and trash. Rows of empty coffee cups and energy drinks line the tables. Just looking at the hackers intensely staring at the screens is intimidating enough for me. There are people sleeping on their keyboards, while others are taking over the floor. Some ambitious hackers pulled all-nighters, sacrificing sleep to keep the prizes in mind. Maybe someday, I’ll get to that point. For now, I will just watch my coding tutorials and be amazed by the passion that surrounds me.